Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Redbreast. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
The Redbreast brand is likely familiar to Irish whiskey enthusiasts, and at least recognizable to anyone who peruses whiskey menus at bars and gastropubs. The brand is quick to point out that theirs is the World’s Most Awarded Single Pot Still Whiskey. It’s worth setting that against the brand’s notable longevity, which substantially weathered the decline in pot still’s popularity up until the present moment of rejuvenation.
Today’s Redbreast can trace its lineage to the 19th century spirits purveyor Gilbey’s, who were known to age John Jameson & Son’s Grand Castle Whiskey in the sherry casks made plentiful by their wine importing business. In 1903, a 12 year Grand Castle was available under a label quite similar to today’s red and white “Redbreast.” There is speculation that the now well known name “Redbreast” originated as the nickname given to the Castle “JJ Liqueur” by Gilbey’s then-chairman, who was an avid birdwatcher.
Redbreast’s first heyday came as it was sold in massive batches through the 1960s, holding through production when Irish Distillers closed the famous Bow Street Distillery in 1971, and was last bottled by Gilbeys in 1985. Rights to the brand were purchased by Irish Distillers, but it remained dormant for nearly a decade. When Irish Distillers became a subsidiary of French mega-distiller Pernod Ricard in 1988, their acquisition of the rights to distill and market Redbreast gave the brand access to new backing resources and was soon relaunched. The success of that relaunch is evident in the brand’s status today as well as Pernod Ricard’s continued investment in Irish Distilling.
Since the 1991 re-launch of the classic 12 year, Redbreast’s range has expanded to 15, 21, and 27 year bottlings as well as special editions and limited releases. One such limited release program is geared directly towards the American market. The Kentucky Oak Edition follows the usual course, with a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley, triple distillation in copper pot stills, and maturation in a combination of ex-Bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry butts, but then the whiskey is finished for three to seven months in air-dried PEFC-certified virgin oak casks sourced from the Taylor family’s Elk Cave Farm.
I’ll admit a fondness for this type of collaboration. As whiskey makers continue to explore and build products highlighting individual ingredients or components, it gives whiskey drinkers opportunities to consider, even to taste, the impact of sourcing and supply chains in our glasses and to learn about the fascinating and exciting work of dedicated producers. As Elk Cave’s Scott Taylor puts it, “Much like whiskey making, tree farming requires patience and faith that future generations will reap the benefit of decisions we make today”.
Redbreast’s classic 12-year was the first pot still whiskey I ever tried and I fell in love with the category almost instantly. A collaboration bottle offering a twist on one of my favorite whiskeys while celebrating an exciting and interesting producer such as Elk Cave Farm is a real treat, and I must admit that I’ve been looking forward to this tasting the second I was handed the sample.
Tasting Notes: Redbreast Kentucky Oak
Vital Stats: Age statement not given, finished 3-7 months in Kentucky white oak barrels. 101 proof. Standard retail price of $95.99
Appearance: Clear gold, moderate body with long legs
Nose: Fresh cut wood, almond extract, and raspberries. As the recent recipient of a chipdrop at my home, a car-size pile of fresh cut wood chips was the first thing that came to my mind when I brought this glass to my nose.
Palate: Start to finish there is a backbone of vanilla bean tannins holding together a succession of distinctive pot still flavors —savory autumn spices, juicy stone fruit sweetness, rich toffee move in succession before leaving a clear impression of the cask on the finish. Easy to savor ,with limited heat even at the higher proof.
Whiskey Review: Redbreast Kentucky Oak
I was excited to taste this bottle and it absolutely does not disappoint. If you don’t like this, you don’t like pot still. After reading the promotional materials which focus heavily on the casks, I started writing with the intention of trying not to bring up the wood but this forces the issue from the first impression on the nose. Undeniably delicious, this offers a variation on the known quantity of Redbreast’s classic pot still that is worth the price tag.